John B. Conte (1855-1941), likely Giovanni B. Conte, i.e., likely Giovanni Battista Conte left behind a project monument for his wife, Emma (1868-1937).

What is a project monument? They spring into being when a grieving party works through their grief by submerging themselves into a project of commemoration, and monumental (heh) examples combine conspicuous expenditure and mission creep into tacit self-commemoration. Touching or risible, they always demand our attention.

Figure 1. Conte monument. Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, NE. Photo: author.

Conte’s comparatively modest project requires a second glance to see how the loss of his wife has driven him to some pretty weird choices. For example, the commemorative centerpiece is the epigraphical equivalent of a framed sampler in Gothic font in which G.B.C. renders an affidavit to his wife’s virtues:

I wish to bear witness to her affection as the forty-nine years of our happy life grew in greater love and esteem for each other. May the blessing of Heaven rest now upon her soul after an irreproachable earthly life.

[signed] JOHN B. CONTE

The unanchored ‘her’ in the first line makes it seem like an extract from a longer document. Of course ‘her’ is his wife; but better to have written ‘Emma’s’—there was room. A desire to be grand has driven G.B.C. into to some bloated, confusing phrasing (the ‘years’ ‘grew in love’, for example).

Figure 2. Confused scholars trying to read Conte’s affidavit. Public domain.

But where Conte attracts Syngrammata’s attention is in making explicit the self-regard only implied in the affidavit:


Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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